Saturday, May 13, 2006

America's Addictions

This coming Monday evening, George Bush is addressing the nation on the important subject of immigration reform. It has been said that he will announce a plan to station national guard units along the border with Mexico to "secure the border" from illegal immigrants. An economic 'Berlin Wall' if you will. However, the Berlin Wall was built to keep people in; basically turning half of that city into a prison. Many other walls have been built throughout history: Hadrian's wall, The Great Wall of China, even a palisade wall of tall timbers along what is now known as Wall St in New York City. These walls were all built for protection against marauding native peoples or warrior tribes. What are our walls protecting us from, the economic devastation of cheap labor?

All this recent wringing of hands over the issue of illegal immigration reminds me of worries over another unwanted import from south of the border. The 'war on drugs' was and is fought to suppress the supply, just as building a fence and stationing soldiers on the border is done to suppress the supply of cheap labor. Similarly, much of the blame for the two problems lies with the demand half of the equation. Just as Americans have a demand or an addiction for drugs, they also have a demand, even an addiction, for cheap labor. Without the cheap labor that immigrants - documented or not - provide, almost everything would cost more. Do you eat at restaurants? I can guarantee you that your dirty dishes are washed by an immigrant and there's a good chance that your food is prepared and cooked by one as well. Do you shop for food? Purchases in the produce and meat departments will be made easier because of the cheap labor that immigrants provide. Have you bought a house in the last 5 or 10 years? That house was made more affordable because of the cheap labor pool of immigrants, legal or not. Immigrants, build our houses, mow our lawns, wash our dishes, even babysit our children. These people who hardly ever receive benefits or workplace protections, are hard working, decent people who simply want a better life for their children and they're being turned into enemies of the state. Sadly, a lot of this attitude comes from the fact that, though they enjoy the bounties of this cheap labor pool, many Americans want these people to disappear when they finish work. To disappear from our neighborhoods and towns and their children not be in the same schools with ours.

I work in a hundred year old downtown Manhattan skyscraper that has windows about four by eight feet in size that can be opened. About a month ago, a crew of workers, who I will assume were immigrants, came around to wash the windows. The man who washed the window in my office quickly washed the inside of the window. Next, my stomach dropped as I watched him, with no safety harness, climb out of the window and stand on a 1 foot wide ledge to wash the outside of the window, 150 feet above the street. Then I realized that he would be repeating this procedure perhaps more than a hundred times in a week, maybe a few thousand times in a year. All this for how much money? Probably just enough to be able to simply afford to feed and shelter himself and his family, or to send a couple of hundred dollars back to his family in their home country. These people are the bad guys? What about the maintenance company that's charging the building management thousands of dollars for this service and paying these people a fraction of that? This kind of thing is exploitation, pure and simple, and it happens everywhere in this country, everyday. Furthermore, the average American doesn't care.

People don't make the connection when they have their "fashion line" that collectively, they are the real reason that countries such as Colombia are practically owned and operated by violent drug cartels. Similarly, when someone hires the lawn care service to cut their grass for $30 a week, which then turns around and pays the immigrant who actually does the work $5, they collectively are one of the millions of Americans responsible for the current 'immigration crisis'. If this person has a teenage son at home who isn't told that it's his job to mow the lawn or simply won't, illegal immigration is the least of that person's problems.


KMW (L) said...

What about the economic strain on the medical field? Someone cannot be refused emergency medical treatment, regardless of whether or not they have any intentions of attempting to pay these medical bills. But if you are a United States Citizen you can be tracked down and punished (via credit reports) within an inch of your life until these bills are reconciled. How about the poor smuck who owns a car which he works his ass off to pay for, insure, register and maintains a valid driver's license who gets hit by a drunk, unlicensed, uninsured illegal alien without a valid license and is left injured and unable to work with a car that is totaled by his insurance company and can't afford to replace it. Or the poor child who was a passenger in that unregistered, uninsured car who was ejected from it because they were standing up in the back seat rather than being strapped into a car seat (THE LAW) but the adults with them either don't know any better or don't care. Or the tax increases which are due in part to the extra money that is spent employing teachers to conduct classes in languages other than English. And the money that goes towards teaching police officers, ambulance drivers, and EMTs Spanish. What happened to the system that used to be is place whereby if you wanted to come to America and live here as a citizen you had to apply, take a test, learn the language and pay taxes? People who live here who became nationalized the legal way are appalled when they try to conduct business with someone who doesn't speak English and rightfully so. And why do I know have to put up with being harassed by telemarketers during dinner and I can't even understand what they are trying to sell me. Final note, I am a woman who has been the recipient of cat calls in languages other than my own and somehow feel even more violated because they could be saying just about anything and I wouldn't understand them and they know and reveal in that fact-I can see it on their faces. Frustrating? You bet. Oh, and my personal favorite-the brothels popping up in homes next door to yours or your grandparents houses which are owned and operated by immigrants (legal or otherwise), which employ immigrants (legal or otherwise) and cater to immigrants (legal or otherwise). Charming. According to a local newspaper, this is due to a large demand because the poor fellows who are here miss their wives back home so much they need to seek out the "companionship" of another woman (and pay for her services).

Anonymous said...

ok kmw has valid points, also. my only question would be, exactly how much money IS being paid in withholding taxes by people using bogus SS#s or multiple people using the same SS#. Being in collections myself, I know the later occurs often. These people are putting some money into the system arent they? JDC